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Bighorn 100 Race Report: Cowboys, Lightning, and Puke

There's a lot I could say about Bighorn, but there's also a lot I'm hoping to forget. I'd like to keep this report brief... so here goes! (update: isn't not super brief. sorry.)

The race started and it was much hotter than I had anticipated. I am terrible in the heat and resolved to take the initial 7 mile climb slowly, walk most of it, and sip away. The fields of wildflowers were stunning. I couldn't bring my homemade fuel or burritos to this race (10 hour drive, drop bags due a day before you get to them) but I had planned to sip Hammer Perptetuum from a flask and eat at the aid stations.

About 5 miles in, despite taking it slow and keeping my heart rate down, I was hot and queasy. I decided to take my only Zofran, hoping that it'd allow me to get calories in and that my stomach would be right by the time things cooled off.

Instead I couldn't eat at the aid stations. I repeated over and over Matt William's mantra "lose minutes to save hours" and spent 5-10minutes at Every. Single. Aid (approx every 4 miles) trying to get food in. Typically I'd end up putting a bit of watermelon in a zip-lock bag and leaving, unable to get anything (even soda) in me.

30 miles in I was concerned about my state. I hadn't been eating or drinking near enough, and knew the whole race would be in jeopardy if things didn't turn around soon. I forced in a couple potato chunks and peach slices during the next 15 miles. I talked out loud to myself, trying to convince my stomach to let in food.

Others felt it necessary to tell me Becky Wheeler's splits throughout the course. At first I politely asked for them to refrain, then I got frustrated and would yell "I don't care!" and as the day went on I just ignored it. She fluctuated between 2-10minutes in front of me, and I wasn't going to try to catch her. My main focus was trying to get some calories and water in. I was clinging to the hope of quesadillas at the Jaws (mile 48, also the turn around). The quesadillas at Tahoe Rim 100 were amazing... crispy with black beans and sweet potatoes inside.

I started to throw up about a half mile before Jaws, but managed to keep in about half the peach slices. I was still hopeful that 1/2 hour at Jaws would settle the stomach and I could move on. Ann came and took care of me, bringing me plate after plate of food. I asked around for Zofran, no luck. Someone gave me pepto, and I chewed the tablets but couldn't swallow them down. A nibble of bacon. Gag. The quesadilla was cold and madevwith processed cheese, I couldn't even attempt to bite it, it made me feel so queasy. Cold broth... ugh. I changed shoes and clothes and filled my flask with Red Bull. I didn't know what else to do. I didn't want to leave there without getting food in me, but I had been there over 25 minutes without any success. I knew Scott had another Zofran, and the sooner I left to find him the sooner I could take it.

The dry socks and shoes were wonderful, and I carefully skirted around the massive puddles and snow fields I had plowed through earlier. Ironic then that it began pouring rain and the trail turned into a muddy river, sucking the shoes off of my feet. Lightning (that stayed at least 5 miles away) lit the sky and I tried to run down. I found Scott and he gave me a Zofran. I walked for a while, hoping to settle the stomach before taking it.

About 20 minutes later I threw the pill up whole. I began to feel a little defeated.

Just before mile 56 I started throwing up. The potatoes and peaches from mile 33. The few bites of ramen I choked down at 44. Then came all the fluid.... I'd throw up and run and throw up and run... and then my stomach was empty.

It almost seemed ok empty. I went to the fire at mile 56. "First female!" They shouted. "Not for long," I'd reply. They gave me the last few ounces of coke from that aid station to put in my flask. I took a sip and left.

The next 6.5 miles were traumatizing.

Stumbling on a muddy cliff edge in the dark. Throwing up became more and more frequent. What was this black tar stuff I kept throwing up? (Later I found out black vomit was blood. Awesome.) Again and again it'd come up.... bile, black tar, bile, black tar. By the time I'd stopped to throw up about 15 times (yes, counting the numbers and time inbetween helped occupy my mind) Missy passed me. She let me know she'd get help. Runner after runner would stop, some just asking if I knew my name and where I was, others convincing me to try an X or Y or Z... and then leaving me after I promptly threw it back up and was unable to keep up an ok walking pace. I developed a habit of laying down next to (or occasionally in, my aim wasn't great) my vomit. I'd try to get up before runners would see me there, not wanting to cause alarm. I was afraid of fainting or blacking out, and falling off the cliff. I was also afraid that if I were to faint and not fall off a cliff I'd hit my head on the rocky terrain and it would turn into some SAR hospital type epic. So I laid down after each vomiting session and waited until I knew I could stand without fainting before continuing on.

Jeremy Suwinski came. I tried to get him to leave me, knowing that I was going 1-2mph and not wanting to ruin his race. But he mumbled something about me passing out and falling off a cliff and dying and him not wanting that on his conscience. It was a pleasant interruption from the "don't pass out, don't pass out, don't pass out" incantation I had begun reciting to myself. He tried to get me to eat or drink unsuccessfully. I'd thrown up so many good-willed salt pills, ginger, and coke from other runners I didn't even want to try any more. Eventually I gave in... and it lasted in my stomach about 4 steps.

Finally Larry arrived. He was from The Narrows aid station and Missy (who went on to win the race!) had stopped to let them know there was a girl up there who wouldn't make it down alone. Sigh.

Seriously, I was just a pathetic little princess at that point. Why am I sharing this embarassing story anyway?

Larry and I made slow progress. He'd radio in every so often "Take a seat sweetie, gotta make a call..." and then the aid station radios would all light up with how runner 167 was still moving but it would take another hour or two for me to get down the next mile. He insisted on staying between me and the cliff edge. Larry kindly broke the news to me we wouldn't make it down the major aid station (FootBridge, mile 66) where there were medical volunteers, cots, and a ride back. We'd have to stop at The Narrows (mile 63). If I could've laughed I would've. There was no way I could make it to the Footbridge in that kind of condition.

It's interesting what your mind clings to when all is a living hell. I didn't want him (or anyone) to touch or physically assist me, because I didn't want to get disqualified. I wanted to finish.

We got to the narrows and I just collapsed next to the Cowboy's fire. They tried to get me to sit on a rock seat, but I nearly fell backwards off it and decided the dirt looked great. The Cowboys (some older Wild West cowboys were there, we had heard about them before the race with their handlebar mustaches, horses, and whiskey) began to take care of me. They slid the saddle pads underneath me to make me warmer. "You'll smell like a pony sweetie but at least you'll be warm." One Cowboy pulled my vest off and another slid a pillow under my head. Then canvas tarp after canvas tarp was piled on top of me. I slipped in and out of sleep, listening to their stories of "life on the wagon" and their old cowboy days. Every few minutes one of them would check on me, tucking the tarps around me and stoking the fire high beside me. They debated about needing to carry me or horse-pack me down to the next aid. Silly cowboys, I was going to finish...

Three and a half hours later they had me try to hold in some warm broth. I was just finishing my first few sips when Scott rolled in. I was excited and promised if he gave me 15 minutes to hold in a bit of broth I could leave with him. The Cowboys glared at him.

I was eager to try to run but Scott convinced me to walk (which was smart in retrospect... a few ounces of broth wasn't enough to make up for 63 miles dehydrated.) A few miles later I managed to get in a piece of sausage at Footbridge.

The rest of the day was slow and terrible. Feet white with strange blisters curled in the wrinkles. Still too queasy to get a good amount of calories or water in (even though I had taken a couple Zofran). Heat. Jokes here and there. I broke down at one point. The cramps from dehydration were so bad, and it was so hot, and my body was so exhausted from what I was demanding of it... I had surpassed my limits of what I could take both physically and mentally. Scott and I had some good laughs to lighten the mood, and shared miles with many others as the day went on.

Through the heat of the 2nd day we trudged on. Another lightning storm moved in around mile 93, the strikes were 2 Mississippi's from us as we ran through a large open meadow. The sprinting to tree line put the last nail in the coffin for how wrecked I was. The flat road miles at the end were so difficult. I couldn't match Scott's walking pace, though I pumped my arms and focused as hard as I could.

Then, we finished.

The night before the race my kids asked if I would win. I told them I probably wouldn't, that this was a big race and there were some really fast women. Indy said to me, "Mom, it's not about winning, it's about doing your best. Just go and do your best, ok Mom?" I promised him I would.

I reflected on that often. Dropping wouldn't have been doing my best. Napping in the shade when it was hot wouldn't have been my best. I did my best.

Since finishing I have mixed feelings on finishing the race. I spent over 6 hours at aid stations. My last half was nearly double the time of my first half. As an "athlete," if you're having a bad day you drop. No one wants that black streak on their resume. No one wants to explain what it means to grind out a finish, what it feels like to have a flat 40 min mile to be giving 120%. If I had dropped, it would have gone nearly unnoticed, not on any results, never needing to be mentioned or remembered.

Why struggle on? I don't know. I wanted a Hardrock qualifier. I wanted to teach my kids that when things are hard that they can go on. In many ways, I wish I would have dropped. But I'm also grateful I could finish, that I learned what suffering really is. That I learned what it means to be on my feet nearly 10 hours longer than I ever had before. That I remembered what was most important to me.... not the glory or the pace or the buckle but my kids, the desire to push, and to finish what I started.

Comments

  1. I'm divided between saying great job and man-oh, you should've stopped. The thing is, it doesn't matter what anyone else says, I think you know when you need to stop for your own safety and you would've been at peace with it (Bryce last year). That you pushed on shows 1) that you're a tough nut, and 2) that you're a lucky nut. You're also a little nuts. :-) Congratulations on getting the finish in spite of all.

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  2. on the drive back I anticipated coming around the corner to see our mountains, and they didn't disappoint as they stood proud and welcoming glowing with the sunset. happy to be back. but bighorn was beautiful, all the pictures I've ever seen don't do it justice... I will have to go back and have a good day there.

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